Seeing Philomena for the second time, I am struck by how it is really from the point of view of the journalist, Martin Sixsmith. The first time I saw it, I thought both points of view were equal mostly because of the strength of character of the woman at the heart of the story, and the performance of Judi Dench. Judi Dench’s power as an actress rests in her unshowiness, her stillness as she delivers a line with clarity and force in a way that is indelible. One of the lines in this movie is, “Sister Hildegard, I forgive you.”
Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears, is about a Roman Catholic woman whose child is taken from her and given to an American family as an orphan. She comes to grips with her child’s history, her relationship to him, and to her Church. Philomena is deeply decent human being whose religious faith is unshakeable.
Her companion and helper, the journalist Sixsmith, is a foil to the blithe sunny attitudes of one raised on, he assumes in a condescending way, Readers Digest, the Daily Mail and romantic fiction. Sixsmith and Philomena Lee come from different classes, and this is one of the charms of the movie, how the upper class cad gets his comeuppance. Philomena finds his cynical and sour outlook exhausting. Sixsmith even though he is the sidekick in this odyssey, is the narrator, and his struggle is no less part of the movie. He has just been fired in a political maneuver by the British PM office, so he is depressed and dislodged from his position of power. He is floundering for something to do.
Several times Philomena asks him to drop the story he is writing because it has grown too sensitive, revealing too much of her private life for comfort. This would leave the journalist not only jobless but without compensation, something Philomena offers to rectify by taking a second mortgage on her house to remunerate him for his time and expenses and lost fee from the magazine that hired him to write about her.
The brilliance of the movie lies in how both characters make completely unexpected discoveries through their road trip. I don’t care if Steve Coogan made up the parts of the movie having to do with the road trip, taking liberties with the true story. He was also brilliant in The Trip, another road trip movie. He can make a road trip movie every year as far as I am concerned.